Tyeisha Clark is a 19-year-old First Nations woman who has dreams with no limits. In fact, she’s already conquered the skies, become a role model in her community and earned herself the title of “The Barefoot Pilot”.
Growing up in Kowanyama, a small Queensland town in Cape York, Tyeisha finished school and wasn’t sure what would be next. After taking a year off, she became determined to find a job and do something bigger with her life.
That’s when Tyeisha connected with RISE Ventures and within a year, everything changed for her.
RISE Ventures is a leading provider of employment, training, post-placement support in remote Australia. As part of Jobfind and the Angus Knight Group, RISE Ventures delivers these services to First Nations people in Kowanyama, Pormpuraaw and Katherine.
Tyeisha registered with RISE Ventures Kowanyama to help her find a job in the community. The team saw Tyeisha’s potential and offered her a role working in their office as an Administration Assistant.
A fast learner and motivated, Tyeisha excelled in her role and was dedicated to helping others find employment, just like she had. But she wouldn’t be staying still for very long… another opportunity was about to come knocking.
John Sayers, a descendent from the Bundawang (Yuin) Mob, is the Director of 18fifty3, an Indigenous-owned Integrated Service Provider.
He was visiting the Kowanyama community to teach ukulele and Tyeisha joined in. John declared he would make her a rock star and Tyeisha replied, “I don’t want to be a rock star, I want to be a pilot!”.
This one statement would be the start of a life-changing journey for Tyeisha and her community.
John has a history in aviation, previously owning Rex Airlines, and got straight to work making Tyeisha’s dream a reality.
From Kowanyama to Bathurst
John connected Tyeisha with Learn2Fly, a flight training school located in Bathurst and Canberra.
Learn2Fly is dedicated to doing their bit to close the gap and in 2023, launched a program to train Indigenous pilots. The aim of this program is to return these pilots to their communities, where they will fly for the numerous general aviation operations supporting them.
Tyeisha packed her bags and travelled south to Bathurst and Canberra to begin her training.
One of her biggest challenges? Dealing with the cold! Despite this, Tyeisha arrived at her first training session with no shoes, and hence the name “The Barefoot Pilot” was born.
On her first time up in the sky and much to her surprise, the instructor handed over the controls. Tyeisha was blown away and felt completely in her element.
From there, Tyeisha was guided through her training by Learn2Fly instructor Lauren. She completed theory, flight simulation and practical training, with challenging weather conditions thrown in.
From conducting controlled stalls at 6,000ft to landing in strong crosswinds, Tyeisha was put through her paces and excelled at her tests.
“She’s just really involved in what we’re doing and is loving the training so that makes her a good student”
Her weeks of training had a very special goal to keep sight of… to fly home!
Flying Home To Kowanyama
While Tyeisha was training, her community was in action planning a special celebration to welcome her home.
RISE Ventures and the Kowanyama Aboriginal Shire Council organised a Fly-In Celebration for Tyeisha’s landing including a market, BBQ and activities.
With anticipation building in her community, Tyeisha had all the motivation she needed to make the 2-day flight home from Bathurst.
Accompanied by Lauren, they flew 2,344km, stopping off in Narrabi, Moree, Charleville, Longreach, Hughenden and Karumba.
Storms nearly thwarted the journey and put them 6 hours behind schedule, but they knew the community was waiting.
Being filmed by her proud father John, Tyeisha touched down on the tarmac at Kowanyama Airport to cheers, handshakes and hugs.
“I had to double-take on how many people there were here… I feel very proud of what I’ve achieved”
All the action was caught by the talented film crew and producer at The Project – watch the journey and celebrations here.
Lifting Off Into The Future
Tyeisha’s story is the first of many. With her success, the Barefoot Pilot program has grown wings and will be expanding with 18fifty3 and Learn2Fly.
Once qualified, Tyeisha plans to give back and help people in her community to train and work in the aviation industry.
“I’ve had a lot of family members, community members – older and young people- come to me and say that they’re very proud as well as that they want to do what I’m doing. It gives them more confidence.”
With long driving distances and local towns cut off during the rainy season, aviation is an industry in demand. Local First Nations people filling these roles isn’t just necessary, it’s also a pathway to uplifting the whole community.
Pilot’s training costs $100k per person so sponsorship, grants and partnerships are essential to ensure The Barefoot Pilot program continues to fly.
RISE Ventures’ own Megan Logan raised $50k from local Kowanyama businesses which will be channelled directly into training costs.
It’s not just about aviation for Tyeisha. She knows how valuable education, training and employment is for people living in remote communities. She’s dedicated to empowering and inspiring First Nations people, starting with her friends and family in Kowanyama.
“Our youth really do need guidance and being a good role model to them will show them that they can do what I’m doing. For them to see that they can become anything they want if they put their mind to it and stick to it.”
For Tyeisha future, the sky is no longer the limit. She has her sights set on becoming the first Indigenous astronaut!